After landing both Joseph Pinion (6-6 G/F) and Derrian Ford (6-4 G), and then missing out on Kel’el Ware (6-11 F/C) to Oregon, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman and company have their sights set on the last remaining “big four” member of the 2022 in-state class: North Little Rock guard Nick Smith Jr.
Rivals’ No. 16 player in the class of 2022 has the Razorbacks in a top 8 list that includes the usual assortment of blue bloods and up and comers like Alabama, Oklahoma, Memphis, Kansas and Kentucky.
However, Smith has announced another possibility in the last few days that would send shock waves through the college basketball world if he actually chose it — the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
UAPB is one of a few public historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the South and mid-Atlantic and is part of the University of Arkansas system.
Arkansas basketball and UAPB fans shared an assortment opinions after this announcement that came on his August 22 visit to UAPB:
“Honestly…as a Hog fan, I wouldnt be upset about this,” Tweeted Chris in AR. “I’d be sad you wouldn’t be a Razorback to cheer you on but I pull for all Arkansas schools.”
“Just couldn’t stomach seeing you leaving for UK or Bama.”
“They won’t love him in Fayetteville like we will in Pine Bluff,” Yolanda Harvey wrote.
“If he does pick UAPB watch how Fayetteville reacts.”
No kidding. As far as I’m aware, no Arkansas basketball player has ever chosen UAPB over the Razorbacks when offered a scholarship by both schools. In the past few decades, the advantages of playing for the Hogs were too overwhelming to make UAPB a valid option.
However, in the last couple years, the dynamics of college basketball are shifting with the emergence of streaming platforms that mean a player like Smith can get nationwide attention no matter where he plays and NIL laws that also, theoretically, mean he would profit no matter where he plays.
Last year, five-star Makur Makur chose the HBCU Howard over traditional blueblood programs, and in football new head coach Deion Sanders has helped many of his Jackson State players sign NIL deals.
There are a few major companies based in or around the Pine Bluff. Simmons Bank, in theory, would be a very good fit as a sponsor.
Before getting into more specifics about where Smith could play basketball after this upcoming season, let’s first get to know him better as a player.
Who is Nick Smith, Jr.?
Smith Jr. is a 6-4 shooting guard who most recently played for Sylvan Hills before announcing a transfer to North Little Rock to play alongside Kel’el Ware for his senior season. He is ranked as a 5-star recruit by 247-sports and a 4-star according to the 247-sports composite rankings.
He’s also the #1 recruit in Arkansas according to 247 Sports composite.
The Razorbacks were the first team to offer Smith back in June of 2019, two months before offers from other basketball powerhouses started pouring in. This is great news for Arkansas basketball fans. Smith has said that he feels a sense of loyalty to schools that have recruited him for a long time. “If you’ve been recruiting me for a while… I’m gonna still rock with you.”
Nick Smith Jr. Breakdown
Smith has nearly every tool available in his offensive bag.
And he used all of them on his way to being named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Underclassman of the Year after averaging 21.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals per game as a sophomore for Sylvan Hills. He followed that up as a junior to become the All-Arkansas Preps Player of the Year after averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, per Richard Davenport.
This summer, he’s averaging 18.6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game playing with Brad Beal Elite at Peach Jam. It’s expected for a scoring average to drop when transitioning from a high school team to a team carrying NBA potential like Brad Beal Elite, including two undecided prospects from the class of 2022 in 4-star guard Jeremy Fears and 5-star forward Brandon Miller.
It’s also worth noting that Moses Moody played for this same squad during his high school summers.
Smith can shoot from distance, pull up off the dribble, finish through contact, and explode to the rim. Smith’s shooting form is fundamental and smooth, instantly making him an intriguing prospect for college coaches. Even though the young guard isn’t always an efficient scorer, the foundation and tools are there, giving him through-the-roof potential.
Along with his ability to contribute from outside, Smith displays the ability to get into the paint and finish plays, as you can see here:
Though not on the same level athletically as guys like Michael Qualls or Justin Smith, the young guard can still get the job done at the rim.
Ball handling isn’t a weakness of Smith’s by any means, but he may not be relied upon as a primary ball-handler early in his collegiate career. He is somewhat similar to recent Arkansas basketball star Moses Moody in this aspect.
Moody was not a liability when asked to handle the ball, but he also didn’t display ankle-breaking moves most nights. This doesn’t take away from either player’s scoring ability but rather nudges them toward being an off-ball player. That being said, Smith is still capable of facilitating with the ball in his hands.
He can navigate screens, find open shooters, and worm his way into the paint fairly consistently.
Along with efficiency, defense is the skillset Smith can improve the most, which is common among young prospects. This, again, isn’t to say that Smith is a poor defender, just that it doesn’t stand up to the other aspects of his game.
The upside is that Smith already has the tools to be an excellent team and individual defender. He has long arms, good athleticism, and a high basketball IQ. With the right coaching, Smith can easily become an imposing presence on both sides of the ball.
Smith’s former coach at Sylvan Hills, Kevin Davis, had high words of praise for his all-around game, saying Smith is “remarkable in every facet of the game… This guy can score the ball all over the floor, makes his free throws, shares the ball with unbelievable vision, [good] practice habits. Through his routines and the things he’s set up, he’s been doing special things ever since he’s been with us.”
Arkansas Baskeball Player Comparison
Smith is a unique type of player who already has NBA scouts paying close attention. His combination of length and scoring prowess is similar to the Razorbacks’ most recent draftee, Moses Moody. Smith is two inches shorter than Moody but has already displayed a more consistent ability to get into the paint using his own skillset rather than relying on set plays or coming off of screens.
Moody is a capable scorer at all three levels but sometimes struggles to break down defenders one-on-one. Smith shows a preference to dribble pullups or spot-up threes, similar to Moody, but finds himself attacking the paint off the bounce more often than Moody did at a similar age.
Both guards have good length, and both have an easy shooting stroke sure to excite any recruiter about their potential. Smith’s strong suit is scoring the basketball.
High on the Hogs
A couple of weeks before announcing his interest in UAPB, Smith released his top 8 college/pro decisions for next season. It includes Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and Kansas. He is scheduled to take visits to Kentucky on Sept. 2, Arkansas on Sept. 12, and Oklahoma on Oct. 8. Already this summer, Smith Jr. has taken official visits to see Alabama, Auburn, and Kansas.
It also originally included the Australian pro basketball league (NBL) and the newly founded Overtime Elite league, but since then recruiting analyst Joseph Tipton reported that Smith will not immediately go pro and has added Memphis and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff to his Top 8 instead.
He is unsure about when he will make his decision.
Overtime Elite is a new basketball league for 16-18-year-olds who are looking to make a professional salary before they’re eligible for the NBA draft. “[Smith] told On3 that his offer from Overtime Elite is worth $500,000 over two years, while the NBL is offering a deal worth $450,000 for one year.”
Smith has made it known that his #1 goal is to make it to the NBA. Even if a player doesn’t blatantly say that they’re looking to be a one-and-done college player, it’s not hard to infer from a recent interview with HawgSports that Smith’s eyes are already lingering on what comes after his time in college.
Smith says he is “trying to figure out how to get to the pros. Get to college first… when I get to college then I’m going to figure out how to get to the pros.”
Luckily for Razorback fans, Eric Musselman has recently proven that he can help players do just that. In his first year, he helped Isaiah Joe get drafted and Mason Jones sign a free agent contract. Then he was instrumental in Moses Moody becoming a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
If the NBA is the goal, Musselman and his loaded staff of former NBA players/coaches can help him achieve it. Smith also doesn’t seem overly set on attending a program based on their history or pedigree at the collegiate level. He recently stated, “Just because they’re Kentucky… doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for me… I don’t really look at the name on the chest. I just look at the scenario I’m gonna be in when I’m in college.”
Nick Smith, Jr. College Prediction
The NBA is the ultimate goal for most college basketball players, and Nick Smith is no different. Of the offers currently on his list, most of them have proven their ability to get players drafted. To the delight of Hog fans, Musselman put Arkansas back on this list after having players drafted in back-to-back drafts.
However, it’s worth noting that Smith revised his Top 10 list after officially receiving an offer from Kentucky, suggesting that they will also be high on his list. My prediction is that while Smith is giving love to UAPB by Tweeting about them, he won’t actually end up choosing them.
Instead, I think he chooses between Arkansas, Kentucky, or Alabama based on who he thinks can get him NBA ready the fastest.
Kentucky is known for its one-and-done players in recent years. However, they already have a Skyy Clark, a 6-3 combo guard in the class of 2022, committed to the roster, as well as other guard offers pending decisions like Shaedon Sharpe (5-star SG) and Cason Wallace (5-star CG).
This is also assuming that current guards like Dontaie Allen leave the program after this season.
Alabama’s recent success both in the SEC and in sending players to the NBA makes for another compelling offer for a pro-oriented athlete like Smith. After winning the SEC regular season in 2021, Alabama saw Josh Primo go #12 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, followed shortly by Herb Jones at pick #35.
Though Kentucky and Alabama pose real threats, it’s possible that Smith’s best opportunity to propel himself to the pros comes with Musselman and the Hogs. It doesn’t hurt that he’d enter the class with fellow in-state recruits, Derrian Ford and Joseph Pinion.
Though Smith does not seem to be a package deal with either player, playing alongside familiar faces, having the opportunity to recreate what the class of 2020 did on the Hill, and a clear pedigree of NBA experience on the coaching staff might be an offer too tempting for Smith to pass up.
See Smith square off against current Razorback star Devo Davis here:
Basketball Department Head at overtimeheroics.net
Twitter: @Panamaniac03 and @OTHArkansas
Facebook Page: Overtime Heroics Arkansas